Green hawks fight clean (and mean)

Hellfire helicopter firingTheir natural habitat is the Pentagon, NATO Allied Joint Force Command, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And their prey is oil sheiks and petro-caudillos, saboteurs of nuclear plants, and others who would use energy to intimidate America.

They worry that importing oil from foreign countries ruled by hostile regimes puts America’s national security and world dominance at risk. They are generals, admirals, spymasters, and national security advisors. They are the green hawks.

Unlike the treehugging pantywaists of yore who wanted to deprive consumers of cheap energy just to destroy the American Way of Life, this new breed of solar-worshipper comes with a barrel-chested machismo that wants nothing more than to keep America on top, and sees that in today’s world of asymmetrical warfare, methanol is a more powerful weapon than MX missiles.

At the head of the green hawk flock is R. James Woolsey, former CIA director and currently on the board of the fledgling green industry group, the Clean Economy Network.

Flying with Woolsey are such organizations as Securing America’s Energy Future, a Washington, DC  lobby outfit with an advisory council of generals, admirals, and CEOs co-led by General PX Kelley, former Marine Corps Commandant and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In June 2005, the group helped mount a war-game exercise called Oil Shockwave, simulating a scenario where US oil imports were disrupted by civil unrest in Nigeria with coordinated terrorist attacks on ports in Saudi Arabia and Alaska. The exercise, which included Kelley along with Robert Gates, Woolsey’s immediate successor as CIA Director and currently Secretary of Defense in the Obama Administration, concluded that a disruption in even a small percentage of America’s imported oil could have disastrous effects on the US economy.

In September of this year, the Center for a New American Security put out a report urging the military to find long-term alternatives to oil. In Fueling the Future Force: Preparing the Department of Defense for a Post-Petroleum Era, report authors Christine Parthemore and John Nagl, a veteran commander in Desert Storm and expert in counter-insurgency, argue that to ready America’s armed forces for tomorrow’s challenges, DOD should ensure that it can run entirely on non-petroleum fuels by 2040.

The report well summarizes what the military has done so far to get off of oil:

DOD officials increasingly understand this vulnerability. During the course of our project, the Navy appointed two-star officers to lead two task forces on energy and climate change. Their activities, which began quietly within the bureaucracy, are now well-known examples of leadership by the U.S. armed forces. The Air Force and Navy flight-tested camelina-based biofuel blends in the past year.  The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) are working to increase energy efficiency and maximize fuel savings in existing platforms and new acquisitions… Bases around the country are investing in solar, wind and geothermal projects.

Clearly, many in the defense and intelligence world understand peak oil and see the need to prepare for a future beyond fossil fuels. But can they successfully move a behemoth as large as the US military the huge distance that it would require to replace all oil with alternative fuels or conservation in just three decades?

And no matter how much progress the armed services make in getting off of oil, it’s an open question whether in the future, as peak oil starts to impact our economy across the board, the US will be able to afford such a huge military establishment. If the Great Recession continues much longer, or if we see economic turmoil that’s similar or even worse in the coming decades, Washington would certainly need to administer a series of cuts to ultimately reduce US forces to a fraction of their current size.

But anyone who cares about peak oil will be grateful for the work of the green hawks. As with so many technologies, from microchips to the Internet, once the military starts to procure equipment for clean energy equipment and efficiency on a large scale, prices will come down for the rest of us.

By helping to create a huge new market for solar panels, wind turbines, and more efficient vehicles, the green hawks can be heroes in the battle we must all fight to build the kind of sustainable economy needed to support America’s freedoms in the future.

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